Blog 144: Steeping, Infusing, and Brewing: What’s the Difference?
Enjoying a tea is fairly easy. We don’t need complex machines, industrialized equipments, or a time-consuming process. A kettle of boiling water, a set of china-teaware, and a well-made tea is all we need for a wonderful time.
On the other hand, enjoying a good tea can be a little bit challenging or even intimidating. There’s so much details and knowledge in the world of tea. Missing a detail or ignoring a fact can result in a completely wrong tea experience.
Just take how we prepare tea for example, there are steeping, infusing, and brewing. Some say all teas should be steeped while others say steeping a tea is wrong. It seems there are simply too many disagreeing opinions in the tea community.
Of course, you should not worry too much - we’re here to help. Today, let’s talk about why steeping, infusing, and brewing are different and when to steep, infuse or brew a tea.
First of all, steeping and infusing are not the same thing. Steeping means keeping the leaves in water for the entire service of a tea, and infusing refers to the procedure which we pour hot water into a tea pot or a Gaiwan, then pour tea out. In infusing, the amount of time tea leaves staying in water is very short.
Both steeping and infusing are used in tea-drinking, but the two methods are for very different teas.
Only non-fermented or slightly-fermented teas can be steeped. In practice, only green tea and white tea can be steeped (white tea products can also be infused or brewed). This is why most tea houses serve green tea steeped in a big glass. Other tea categories, such as oolong tea and black tea, are often infused.
“Wait a minute,” some might say. “I thought black tea should also be steeped?”
Not really. Some low-end black tea tea products, such as those in tea bags, need to be steeped because their inferior-quality leaves (or ashes) require a long time to produce a taste. When it comes to higher quality loose-leaf black tea products, they have to be infused.
If we force over-steeping a tea that’s supposed to be infused, it’d become something we call “suffocative steeping/闷泡” (please see Blog 37, Blog 79, Blog 89, and Blog 124 for details). Suffocative steeping is quite destructive to a tea. The most direct feeling is that an over-steeped tea tastes bitterer and and harsher. This is perhaps why many over-steeped teas require sugar and honey to be drinkable. Besides the less desirable taste, over-steeped teas also release too much caffeine.
Interestingly, although we can’t over-steep a tea, we can sometimes brew it. Brewing a tea has many benefits. Brewing’s constant high temperature helps unleash high-boiling-temperature fragrant substances. Thus, brewing a tea can make the tea soup richer and more flavorful.
Despite brewing’s benefits, not all teas are suitable for brewing. Most suitable teas are heavily roasted teas or aged teas (including aged white tea products). Lightly fermented and non-fermented teas can never be brewed; otherwise, a tea would become undrinkable: its leaves would turn black and tea soup would turn purplish.
The most common teas that can be brewed are white tea, black tea and dark tea (such as Pu’er). Among the three, white tea and dark tea are more likely to be brewed in tea houses. Oolong tea is the oddball when it comes to brewing. As a half-fermented tea, although oolong tea can be lightly brewed, it is still better when infused.
There are many things about brewing that we need to pay attention to.
First, the water temperature. For a tea fresh out of its package, we need to first brew it with cold water. However, when refilling the tea pot, we need to use warm cooked water to maintain the taste.
Second, we need to use an appropriate teaware. For brewing, we suggest choosing a larger and glazed tea pot to avoid the need for constantly adding water. Also, since there’s no standard tea pot size for brewing, we must carefully control the ratio of tea to water. Too much tea leaves can lead to an unbalanced tea soup.
In practice, whether to steep, infuse, or brew a tea is entirely up to what kind of tea it is. We hope this blog can help you better understand how to choose steeping, infusing, or brewing for your tea.
We hope you enjoyed today’s blog. As always, if you have questions or suggestions, please leave a comment, tweet us @valleybrooktea or email the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also follow us on Instagram @valleybrooktea and join our mail list to get our daily tea updates and our latest promotions!
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